Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan. Most of them live in Hokkaido island and Sakhalin of Russia. They speak Ainu languages and they practice Ainu religion. They have their unique architectural patterns which are interesting to learn about.
A traditional Ainu house is called ‘Chise’ and a Ainu village is called ‘Kotan’ . Kotan are usually located near river basins. A typical chise is made of bamboo grass or thatch or tree barks and it may vary based on geographical location. Usually, a chise is rectangular or square shaped and it has three windows. Ainu people believe that a window of a house is sacred and every house must especially have a window besides the main door. The houses are aligned from east to west in a Kotan. All the houses have fireplaces near the entrance. On the east side of the house exists an Altar where ceremonies and offerings to gods conducted.
Outbuildings generally have lavatories, storage rooms, drying racks for fish and cages for pets. Ainu are hunters or fish gatherers and some of them have pet bears. A bear is considered as sacred and a ceremony called ‘Iomante’ is conducted for the spirits of bears. Also, Ainu people like to dry the fish by hanging them to the sides of their thatched houses.
To understand more about Ainu lifestyle, architecture and history, one should definitely visit Ainu Museum in Hokkaido. It is known as ‘Porotokotan’ and it is opened in 1976 as the Shiraoi Foundation for the Preservation of Ainu Culture. Replicas of kotan and chise can be found in this museum. Artifacts, paintings, books, clothes and folk materials are on display. Traditional Ainu dances are also performed for visitors now and then. This museum has been doing a lot of efforts to preserve Ainu culture and letting everyone in the world know about it. Research works are also being carried out here for further understanding of Ainu`s tangible and intangible cultural assets.
So, if you are interested in knowing about Ainu architecture and lifestyle, the Ainu Museum of Hokkaido is worth visiting. Shiraoi is accessible easily by local train from Noboribetsu.
For more information, visit the website.